The Karl Kesel Issues

This section covers the truncated back-to-basics run by Karl Kesel.

Daredevil #353: "The Devil's Work!"; 22 pages
Writer: Karl Kesel
Artist: Cary Nord, pencils, Matt Ryan, inks

With Matt's life back on track, Daredevil tries to bring Mr. Hyde to justice for the rape and murder of an underage girl--only to be surprised when Hyde surrenders and challenges The Man Without Fear to prove that he killed the girl. Meanwhile, high-powered Boston lawyer Rosiland Sharpe comes to town with an offer for Matt and Foggy.

Ah, the Kesel run..

If there is a better example of how the Frank Miller run totally dominates the perception of this series, I'd be hard-pressed to find it. After the disaster of the 'New Look' run and a seven-part storyline by J.M. DeMatteis designed to pretty much restore the status quo, inker-turned-writer Kesel was tapped to be the writer of choice. Kesel was a major fan of Silver Age Marvel (he insisted that the only way he would write Fantastic Four 2099 was if he could use the actual FF), and proceeded to do a version of Daredevil that acknowledged the darker years the series had gone through while telling the kind of light-hearted and fun stories the Stan Lee run was known for. Kesel barely got his opening storyline out when the DD fanbase got up in arms, and the Marvel editors turned to Joe Kelly to take over after little over a year.

That Kesel was writing extremely entertaining stories that managed to straddle the line between the two fisted criminal world of Frank Miller and the jazzier stuff of Stan Lee was never considered.

This is the first issue of Kesel's run, and it's a prime example of how well Kesel integrated the two extremes of Daredevil's history. In interviews, Kesel had mentioned that he wanted to make Mr. Hyde into Daredevil's main opponent because he represents anarchy to Matt's respect of the law. And he literalizes the conflict by setting up this strange challenge to prove the death of a young girl was Hyde's responsibility. The implication of what Hyde did is pretty clear, and it's not nice--and what's amazing is this very grim sequence sits seamlessly in between other sequences that make it clear that Kesel is serious about lightening Daredevil's tone. In Kesel's hands, the wisecracks that were an integral part of The Man Without Fear's arsenal are back, as are the more...creative ways DD handles situations (look at the way Kesel has Matt handle a suicide-pact couple on the roof of a building in the story's opening sequence). It's to Kesel's credit that there's no clash between the goofiness of Matt explaining how he had to fake his own death to a judge and the brutality of the scene with Hyde; they obviously exist in the same universe, and it feels right.

What's also distinctive are the various little touches Kesel gives to foreshadow the rather big shake-up that was forthcoming across the Marvel line--namely, the infamous Onslaught storyline that saw most of the shiny, happy, powerful heroes shunted off into a pocket universe for a year so Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld could mess with them. Kesel makes it clear that DD is very aware of his limitations; he shows concern when he speculates that the noises coming from the warehouse district is due to The Hulk, and freely admits to himself that he is incapable of handling certain situations, citing the Fantastic Four and The Avengers (both earmarked for being whisked away some months hence), which is refreshing in light of the overachieving, too-grim-for-school DD of the last several years.

Hyde gets a pretty much total overhaul in this issue at the hands of John Romita Jr. to reflect his new status quo. Gone is the Victorian outfit in favor of a ripped muscle shirt, khaki slacks, combat boots and what appear to be olive-colored bandages wrapping up his arms. The new design, while not as distinctive as the original, better reflects Hyde's new position as a figure of sensation over responsibility. Although there were one or two moments after this when the character reverted to his old outfit, this design actually took, and is used in all of Hyde's appearances in the series from here on in.* Oddly enough, though, Hyde's position as Daredevil's main opponent only lasted for the course of this storyline and a D.G. Chichester/Scot McDaniel Daredevil/Batman one shot where he teamed up with Two-Face. When Kesel was replaced, so was Hyde, and the character sunk back to b-lister.

This issue introduces Rosiland Sharpe, a character who becomes a major supporting character and signals a further sea-change for the series, moving Matt and Foggy out of the small firm they've occupied since the first issue to a larger, more powerful one. Not surprisingly, this development (and the revelation that Sharpe is Foggy's mother that occurs several issues hence) is forgotten once Kesel leaves, and is never mentioned again.

The art is by Cary Nord, and it's flat out gorgeous. Nord is an artist more in tune with the animation-based style of such artists as Paul Smith, but it works wonderfully in this book, especially with the expert use of spot blacks to give the going-ons a slightly film-noirish tone. Nord would go on from here to the risible Mutant X before landing the gig of reviving Conan for Dark Horse Comics.

Kesel's run is different, and it's certainly a change from the dark version of The Man Without Fear that came to dominate the series ever since Frank Miller. But contrary to what some fans will tell you, it's also an extremely good and valid take on Daredevil, and I just wish we could have seen more of what this creative team planned before they were run out of town on a rail.